YouTube Accessibility: How to Make Accessible Videos with Closed Captions

Kris Rivenburgh
Jul 28 · 5 min read

You want to know how to make videos on your website accessible and accessible videos you shall have. Let’s begin.

First, for the love of Apple Jacks, host your videos on YouTube.

YouTube (a Google company) has built-in subtitles that are REALLY, REALLY good. Like really good.

So good that 85% of your transcription work is already done for you.

Right away, this saves you time and dollar bills so take advantage of the best automatic transcription software in the world that happens to be 100% free.

Second, after you’ve uploaded your video to YouTube, go to its public page (the one where everyone can see the video) while logged into your company account. Click “Edit Video”.

Screenshot of YouTube option bar with likes and dislikes, share link, and analytics and edit video blue buttons below.
Screenshot of YouTube option bar with likes and dislikes, share link, and analytics and edit video blue buttons below.
Click “Edit Video” on the public video page while logged in.

Next, click “Other features” link inside the freshly opened edit dashboard.

Screenshot of left navigation menu inside edit video dashboard. Other features is the last option on the list.
Screenshot of left navigation menu inside edit video dashboard. Other features is the last option on the list.
Select “Other features” after you click edit.

A new subtab will open up and you’ll to select “Translation & transcription”.

Screenshot shows submenu that opens up after you click “Other features”. Translation and transcription is the top link.
Screenshot shows submenu that opens up after you click “Other features”. Translation and transcription is the top link.
Once the subtab opens up, select “Translation and transcription”.

Now you’ll want to click the “English (Automatic)” link. Don’t click the “Add new subtitles or CC” button unless you really don’t want to take advantage of YouTube’s automatic transcription.

Screenshot of options YouTube gives to add new subtitles or CC or to edit the existing automatic subtitles.
Screenshot of options YouTube gives to add new subtitles or CC or to edit the existing automatic subtitles.
You’ll click on the “English (Automatic) button.

Next, click the “edit” button.

Screenshot of YouTube options to click edit or unpublish.
Screenshot of YouTube options to click edit or unpublish.

And now we’re going to edit the existing subtitles so that they:

  • are accurate
  • in sync with the video
  • include closed captioning.

Closed captioning is essentially subtitles (dialogue) combined with all other meaningful sounds in the video (e.g. laughter, door slamming).

Screenshot showing existing YouTube subtitles within time frames.
Screenshot showing existing YouTube subtitles within time frames.
To edit existing subtitles, just click inside the text boxes.

Once you’ve made all of your edits, click the publish edits button.

Screenshot of Delete draft and Publish edits options inside YouTube editor.
Screenshot of Delete draft and Publish edits options inside YouTube editor.
Delete draft would be the WRONG button.

After you click publish, go to the newly published public YouTube video page, click “share”.

Screenshot of YouTube options bar with likes, dislikes and share link.
Screenshot of YouTube options bar with likes, dislikes and share link.
Click share.

Then select the “Embed” button.

Screenshot of share options for YouTube video including embed, Facebook, Twitter, and more.
Screenshot of share options for YouTube video including embed, Facebook, Twitter, and more.
Select the “Embed” option after you click share.

And now grab updated embed code and copy and paste it into notepad (or directly into your website so that the newly updated video can be embedded into your website.

Screenshot of code you can embed in a website to show a YouTube video with embed options underneath the code.
Screenshot of code you can embed in a website to show a YouTube video with embed options underneath the code.
Grab all of the new code and paste it either directly into your website or in Notepad for later.

Note: This is an essential step. You

Finally, you’ll need to create a text transcript of the video and include this transcript directly the video on your website.

A transcript contains video dialogue along with any other pertinent information of what is happening in the video. Important information may include:

  • Name and title of person
  • Name of things (buildings, products, etc.)
  • What is happening in the video
  • The settings of the video

Every last detail of the video is not necessary but with a transcript you do want to make sure to describe the meaning and essence of the content in the video.

Also, transcript information should be in the same basic chronological order as the video (e.g. you don’t describe the ending of the video to begin the transcript).

ADA Compliance & Accessibility Notes

Beyond closed captioning and a transcript, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines or WCAG 2.0 AA asks website owners to include a version of the video with an audio description.

An audio description version contains the video but with narration of non-audible things that are going on inside the video.

While this is indeed helpful to visually impaired users, the aspirational ask is practically burdensome in terms of both time and cost, so much so that it will result in videos being yanked from the web en masse.

The good news is the Web Accessibility Standards or WAS only requires closed captioning and a text transcript which provides access to both persons with visual and hearing impairments.

As the ADA Website Compliance legal landscape stands, you have flexibility in how you choose to make your website accessible so WAS is the best choice.


Video Transcripts vs. Web Design

When adding transcripts beneath your videos, the length of the transcript can dramatically affect the layout of your website.

The best option to remedy this is to include a descriptive text link for the transcript directly beneath the video. This text link should have an anchor text such as:

Click here for a transcript of the video

Once the link is clicked, the full transcript will show in a collapsible box


Non-YouTube Hosted Videos

Videos that are self-hosted or hosted on other platforms such as Vimeo will require more work in creating closed captions but the process will remain the same.


Accessibility on YouTube

For making videos accessible on YouTube, all you need to do is reference the text transcript in your video description (e.g. say “full transcript below” near the beginning of the description) and then paste the full transcript inside the description on the public YouTube page for your video.


Subtitles vs. Closed Captions

Subtitles merely convey the dialogue inside a video and are not enough, alone, to make a video accessible. Closed captions convey the dialogue and all important sounds such as laughter and doors slamming.

Accurate closed captions + a descriptive text transcript is the key to making your video accessible and ADA compliant.

Kris Rivenburgh

Written by

Kris is an ADA website compliance and accessibility consultant. He is the author of The ADA Book https://ADABook.com and the founder of https://accessible.org.

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